Say “cheese?” No thank you. Kate T. Parker would prefer you say “fierce.”
The professional photographer and mother of two freckle-faced girls, Parker began taking photos of her children in all their muddy, athletic and curious glory. She found the strongest images were those in which she allowed them to be their most honest selves, and, after sharing them on the social media, the photos went viral in 2015 and have now expanded into the book “Strong Is the New Pretty.” We spoke recently with Parker—who will be in Denver for a book signing at Athleta in Park Meadows March 14 at 6 p.m.—to talk about her new book, motherhood and courage.
When and why did you start taking photos?
I used to work at CNN as a video editor; I was also a producer in advertising. When I had my girls, I started taking pictures of them, like most mothers do. Since my professional experience involved working with art directors and highly creative professionals, my pictures did not match my taste level. So, I started working on bridging the gap between my taste level and my skill level. I taught myself how to shoot manual through YouTube. It sort of just grew from there.
I’ve always wanted to shoot truthful, honest pictures. I didn’t just want to shoot a picture of a baby in a basket because when do you ever see that? So, for me, it’s always been about shooting honestly.
What inspired the concept behind your new book?
Well, I’m a mom and a photographer. I have two girls who are 8 and 11. My girls are tomboys—they’re more often dirty than they are clean and their hair is rarely brushed. They’re full of emotion and confidence. I started taking photos of my girls in their everyday lives. When I started shooting them I noticed the strongest images were the ones where I captured their true selves. I wanted my girls to know that they are beautiful and powerful when they are simply themselves—they don’t need to change for the camera or be compliant for any reason. I wanted to celebrate that with my camera.
A group of images of my girls and their friends went viral on social media. From there I had the opportunity to expand the project into a book. One of my goals with the book was to represent all kinds of girls, so I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half traveling the country taking photos of different girls who show strength in unique ways.
So, it all started on social media?
Actually, I was asked to be part of a gallery show in Atlanta. I got together what I thought were the 20 strongest images from the series. Not a single image sold. I was pretty deflated, but I still felt there was something worthwhile in the images. I packaged the images and sent them to a few art blogs I follow. One of the bloggers asked me if there was a greater message behind the images. That’s when it clicked with me that the images are about celebrating the rawness and honesty of being a girl. The images are meant to go against what young girls see in the media and oppose the expectations of how girls are “supposed” to look and act.
Is this your first book?
Yes, and it’s such a scary thing. I believe so much in this message and I’ve poured my heart into this book. I feel like I’m releasing my baby into the world.
What’s your favorite image in the book?
My favorite image is of a girl named Leslie. She’s in JROTC. In the image, she’s standing in front of the American flag and saluting. Each girl in the book has a quote next to her own picture. Leslie’s quote makes me cry. It says, “Many girls grew up dreaming of a hero to save them. I grew up dreaming of becoming one.” She’s 18 years old.
There’s a man who works for the lawn care company in my neighborhood—I found out today that he’s Leslie’s dad. I’d seen him for years but I had no idea that Leslie was his daughter. He came up to me today told me that Leslie is so proud to be in my book. She now goes to college in Florida and is on the dean’s list.
How do you feel after making the book? What has it brought you?
I grew up playing sports and I played soccer in college, so I understand how athletes have to work hard, dig in and prepare. Doing this book has made me realize this is the same process everyone uses to become great at the thing they love, whether it’s music or academia. Everyone goes through the same process of digging in, being determined and trying to excel at their passion. It’s opened my eyes to the strength and power that’s inherent in all these girls. Whatever is driving them is the same thing that drove me. I’ve realized courage is courage. Determination is determination. It doesn’t change depending on the goal you’re pursuing.